There is, in the life of my niece T.K. Padmini, the shine of a silver star which pre-maturely disappeared behind the cloud of death. Her artistic brilliance did not radiate light as in the saying "Brightness of the pure gold and thereafter dead darkness". Although her life withered leaving her dreams and work of art behind at the prime of youth at 29, Padmini adores the throne of the greatest painter in the world of art. Even while she is in her eternal sleep being fondled by the wild flowers over her grave located between the shrubs and bushes of bamboo in the southern corner of the Tharavad compound, those with a spirit of enquiry run in here to recognize and pay homage to her works of art.

The little girl who made us both burst out in laughter and weeping, the student entering the compound on return from school with the stack of books firmly held close to her chest, the girl with broken heart sitting lonely staring into eternity being unable to pursue her higher studies after her tenth standard, the young woman with sad face who being at the wits end to develop her born-interest in art while being relegated to the corridors of the Tharavad, and not revealing to the world her deep felt anguish - this unfortunate uncle recounts here the moments in Padminiís life which, through obstacles, overcame the helplessness of the village girl to reach the perfection of the philosophy of art. Those eyes opening from melancholy to hope stay put in our hearts.

Ours is a hinterland Nair family of medium status which has seen periods of growth, downfall, wealth and also poverty. Thozhukkad Kadancheri Tharavad in Kadancheri Desam, Kaladi Amsam in the old Ponani Thaluk. An old matriarchal household pursuing agricultural activities and engulfed in its own ephemeral rural daydreams in a place where even bus service had not reached. School education, as far as the girls of the family were concerned, ended with the onset of the marriage proposals. The girls completing their high school education commuting to far off schools were rare- this was the condition of women in our village those days. Padminiís father Mr. Kinattinkare Damodaran Nair was a clerk in the Registration Department. He died when Padmini was in her third standard. Padminiís widowed mother, elder brother, three elder sisters and myself -the uncle- were the members who carried on.

The only brother Radhakrishnan, although grew up as a bright young man and got employment, mysteriously lost for the house. Guardianship of all the children, therefore, fell on me although I was only a high school student.

Padminiís grand mother and my mother Ammukutty Amma was alive those days and was staying with us. Padmini, even when grown up, loved nestling to her grandmother and being affectionately fondled by her. I believe that the grandmotherís influence was there for the touch of the rural serenity evident in Padminiís paintings exemplified by temple courtyards, peepul trees and temple lamps made in granite stone. In later life also she liked to live only in those surroundings where she was loved.

A letter sent by T.K. Padmini to her uncle T.K. Divakara Menon.

Padminiís primary education commenced in the nearby Kadancheri school. Secondary education was completed in Ponani Basel Mission School and A.V. high School. She passed S.S.L.C in 1956.

As a child Padminiís interest was in singing. There were several evenings in our household absorbed in the tender music flowing from her. Her attention turned from music to drawing while in High School. Every year, first prize for drawing used to go to Padmini. Shri K.L. Devassy, the drawing master identified the talent in the girl and encouraged her. This encouragement would have prompted her to take a new path.

"Uncle, our drawing master makes us draw well. He takes me so seriously! See this, I have drawn it" returning from school one day she showed that picture to me. It was the picture of a young girl clad only in her loincloth holding her kid-brotherís hand awaiting for the return of their mother from work. The ramshackle gate made of thin bamboo has been kept open. This was her first picture which I took note of. This was followed by a flow of drawings. Sketches of all those who came into our household. That little mind was just dancing. Always bursting with energy with an eagerness to draw in so many things into her art.

Her life was a struggle for four years after High School. Being the youngest at home she was the only one who was to obey the orders of all else. She practiced obedience to elders lest they should get angry. "I walk in this house a distance longer than the six miles up and down I used to walk while studying in school."- this was the protest on a day when she was dead tired! While doing any work her mind was thirsting for some thing else. Her notebook was filled with sketches. Did she create her drawing depicting women staring from lonely and dark worlds to tell her own story?

My heart was pensive and paining. It was very difficult to place a girl child at another place for continuing studies. Her mother and sisters also were not agreeable to it. Finally, I narrated Padminiís wish and my mental agony to the famous poet Edasseri Govindan Nair. His advice and initiatives had guided me through several difficult phases of my life. "Let her come and stay in my home; Devassy Master will come there and teach her." Edasseri comforted me. Edasseri and his wife Janaki Amma accepted her into their home showering love for a daughter on her. Thus she stayed as a member of Edasseri family for a while.

"The arrival of the adolescent girl with lush hair, wide eyes and melting smile brightened the ambience of our home. Her humble and loving behavior even today remain a sweet memory." Edasseri has recounted thus in one of his articles.

Edasseri continues about Padmini:" Our children promptly developed attachment to her. They called her "Padminiedathy (elder sister Padmini). Her demeanor inspired respect more than love. Those dreaming eyes could never be admonishing. However, her approach to the art, which she worshipped, being serious the children never tried to rush into her workshop or distract her with their nagging. This was incredible indeed. Their sense of adulation for her would have increased on another count too. In no time Padmini would draw their pencil sketches! Those sketches were true to and full of life. Perhaps, there must have been an automatic refrain in those tender minds that they should conduct themselves only with utmost respect in front of such an abounding genius." Like this Edasseri had appreciated the level of maturity that Padmini had attained even as an adolescent.

Moreover, Edasseri affectionately recounts that he learnt the real meaning of commitment to art from this little girl. "The poet when engaged in activities other than Poetry is cheating her. The practical mind is the hunterís arrow which separate permanently from one another the ĎCrouncha Mithunaí (twin-birds@) of Kavitha (poetry) and Kavi (poet)." It was Padminiís devotion to art that prompted Edasseri to undertake this spiritual evaluation. Edasseriís family, albeit unconsciously, instilled in her, at that young age, the realization that as in the case of poetry, the principle applies to chitrakala (art of drawing, painting etc.) also.

But Padminiís interest in chitrakala was not to be satisfied by the basic training in art she then received. She returned home. She would have felt sad that her artistic talents were not being encouraged to the deserved extent by people in her immediate surroundings. In those days painting was not as familiar to Keralites as literature. Parents did not object to a child making her attempt at literary creation, as literacy was akin to practice in literature. Chitrakala did not have the scope in the market as literature had. Therefore, chitrakala was not deemed a desirable occupation to be in for a girl those days. This lack of sympathy did not help create a environment conducive for talented girls like Padmini to grow. However, even if there was lack of artistic sensibilities at home, Padmini used to read a lot.

She used to read poems, short stories and articles in periodicals and express her opinion quite frankly. She also used to write her opinion on the sketches which used to appear in the literary weekly ĎMathrubhoomií to the editor of the Childrenís Section of the weekly.

During those days information spread that Mr K.M. Vasudevan Namboodiri (artist Namboodiri) has reached Ponani securing Diploma from Madras School of Arts. As I had a classmate and friend from Karuvattu Mana ( Nambodiriís house), I took the freedom to approach Mr Vasudevan Namboodiri and discuss with him Padminiís aptitude in Chitrakala. He agreed to come down to Kadancheri to view pictures drawn by Padmini. This was how Namboodiri arrived at our household. And that visit ended as a Guru-Shishya relationship for Padmini. Namboodiri used to come home twice a week to instruct Padmini. Apart from the journey by bus, he had to traverse two miles of slushy and wet paddy fields to reach our house. He was not undertaking the visits for any remuneration. Padmini came in touch with modern techniques in art from this acquaintance.

Padmini was now charged with enthusiasm like one who accidentally got the medicinal wine, which he has been searching for long, entangled right over his leg! Our home, which was sleeping, suddenly woke up to her enthusiasm. New names like Van Gogh and Pablo Picasso fell in my ears also. There was light in Padminiís life now!

An incident which happened during that time comes to my memory. An exhibition of the works of modern painters was being organized for the first time in Kozhikode (formerly Calicut). Padmini wished to visit the exhibition. After lots of debate in her mind she broached the subject to me. We decided to set out for the exhibition. She selected some of her own paintings also to carry to Kozhikode. When she got ready her mother said:" Ayye, How disgusting! If you want to go you better wear your elder sisterís thick necklace and tightly tie-up your hair in plaits. If you are unashamed at least my brother-meaning myself- will feel the shame."

She tried to escape saying "I am not going to be an exhibit there mother! Exhibits are the pictures, not me." But her mother did not relent. When the argument turned serious the issue reached me for resolution. "I am ashamed uncle to go to the exhibition bejeweled like that."

I defended Padmini. "These matters are best left to individual choice. So, sister, you please do not insist." The issue ended there. At the exhibition hall Padminiís face flushed with excitement. Artist Namboodiri introduced her to the famous artist M.V. Devan. Devan examined the drawings in charcoal which she had carried with her. He highly commended those drawings. Promptly he selected two out of those drawings, got them framed and placed them along with the other exhibits in the hall. This was Padminiís first exhibition. So much was Padminiís happiness that for some time she was lost for words.

After some time, Namboodiri found it not possible to visit our house regularly. But Padminiís enthusiasm was several fold now. It was during this time that the early line sketches were drawn in large numbers in her life as artist. She had depicted the splendor of village scenes in those drawings. Boys and girls brimming with natural elegance and hardworking rural folks were objects of her observation. Rural women who carry out hard work as in post-harvesting work like de-husking and those who carry load engaged Padminiís particular attention. Ordinary folks with whom Padmini interacted in her day to day life, like those belonging to Muslim community in Ponani in their typical attire made up of Kachi Mundu and head-gear, found their place in her works. The intensity of her nostalgic love for her village and people, astonished us. Her easy style of presentation was hearty. Those sketch books were the blue print of growth of an artist. Those drawings, which influenced her later paintings, were preserved in our house for a long time. Later on these were transferred to the archives of Lalithakala Academy for preservation and for study by those interested. All documents relating to Padmini are preserved in the Academy.

Padminiís passion was on ascend to continue her higher level course in arts joining Madras College of Arts and Crafts. But she did not muster enough courage to articulate her wish openly. In our village it was unthinkable that a village girl live alone in a far off city to pursue studies. Moreover, we had financial problem to send a child to Madras for studies. And above all, her mother was not happy to send her daughter to a far off place alone. She clearly told her so.

Padmini who used to press hard to buy paper for drawing now kept the paper blank. She stopped talking to others. I had a small income job. On my return from office my dear niece used to bring me a cup of tea. I look at her face. Like the pallor of tea, her face was also pale. Her picture as a little girl in her frocks carrying her bundle of books and lunch box walking six miles daily rushed to my mind. She is not today the sprightly girl she was those days. "I am an artist, you please help me develop" her eyes reflected the prayer.

My mind turned pensive in contemplation and I reached a decision. That decision was of the head of the family and everyone else agreed. Padminiís eyes brightened when told of the decision to admit her in the Madras College of Arts and Crafts. Edasseri gave a letter of Introduction to Mr M. Govindan who was in Madras those days. Mr M.V. Dean had also reached Madras. Akkitham Narayanan, the famous painter was a student at Madras those days. With the loving assistance from all these persons Padmini was admitted to the Madras College. I left her in a relativeís house and returned. On my way back I felt as if Padminiís eyes were following the hillocks and blankets of greenery.

During vacation when Padmini returns, I used to wait for her at the railway station. As the train pulls along Kuttippuram station platform those eyes would appear through the window. My niece comes running and hugs me tight. Like a little girl, she goes on chatting about hundred subjects. But once she reaches home she transforms herself into a typical homely girl. Meanwhile, she takes over the nursing of plants in the garden. She dearly loved jasmine flowers.

While studying in Madras, Padmini had sent a few paintings for the consideration of Government of India for award of scholarship. Intimation arrived that Padminiís paintings have been selected for consideration of the award and she received a call letter for interview at Delhi. Padmini wrote to me that she has to go to Delhi. I was at a loss as to how to go to Delhi and in the process my reply was delayed. "I now realize the disadvantage of being born a woman." This sentence in her second letter touched my heart. "It is not a fault to be born a woman. Do not feel sad." I replied. With the help of a friend she could stay comfortably in Delhi. But she did not win the scholarship. We consoled her saying that awards need not necessarily go to the deserving always.

A firm resolve not to drift from her personality was a special trait in her character. "Everyone should be capable of standing on her feet. And one should be true to herself." These were her convictions. She wished to take forward life and art in tandem. Padmini always opposed the idea of downgrading art as a business to earn a living. She used to value all artistic creations which combined intellect and heart.

Padmini was not ready to enslave her personality for the sake of wealth and fame. While she was unemployed, she got a chance to work as a sales girl in an art gallery. It offered good salary. But she did not take the bait. "Money is not everything. Gallery is a place, which is frequented not only by those who have taste, but also by idlers. I will have to please such people also, gallery needs just sales girls." This is how she reacted.

Once the correspondent of a major Tamil magazine approached Padmini for an interview. She was also asked to pose for photo as directed by them. She was tempted by the assurance that the whole purpose was only to encourage budding artists and the photo was meant for the cover page. "There are so many budding artists among men and why not insert photo of some of them on your cover page?" The correspondent did not like her question. They returned without taking the interview.

Padmini liked to work as teacher. She loved children. Once she returns home all kids used to hang around her.

Padmini joined Madras School of Arts in 1961 and thanks to her special talent and aptitude she secured double promotion and completed her six-year course in Painting in just four years. In 1965 she passed the Diploma in first class bagging first rank. In accordance with her wish to be a teacher she worked from 1966 to 1969 as teacher in Vidyodaya Girls School and Childrenís Garden Matriculation School in Madras.

She participated almost in all painting exhibitions from the year 1962. Padminiís first oil painting "Sorrow" was on show in the Progressive Painters Association in 1962. Earlier her charcoal drawings were displayed at the exhibition in Kozhikode.

Later Padmini participated in exhibitions, one after another, such as the one organized by South Indian Society of Painters Association, Young Painters and Sculptors Exhibition and Madras Lalith Kala Academy. Her paintings were on display at National Lalith Kala Academy exhibitions at Delhi, exhibitions held at Mumbai and Bangalore by the Young Painters Association and Progressive Painters Association. In the exhibition on three women painters held at Madras in 1965, Padminiís paintings received accolades. In the "Six Artists Show" organized at Madras and Delhi, Padminiís work was on display and viewers and media appreciated them with high approbation. A one-man show of Padminiís paintings was held in April 1969 at Madras Sarala Art Centre.

Padminiís studies were completed during the golden period of Madras College of Arts under the stewardship of K.C.S. Panikker. Many artists who later became famous were at that time studying in that institution. Akkitham Narayanan, Rajavelu, Kanai Kunhiraman, V.M. Sadanandan, Rani Pooviah, Reddapa naidu, Arnavas, Alfonso, Ramanujam, S.G. Vasudev, Viswanathan, K.V. Haridasan, C.N. Karunakaran, Adimoolam, Dakshinamurthy, R.B. Bhaskaran, Jayapala Pankker, N.K.P. Muthu Koya, Gopinath, K. Damodaran- Padmini also joined this company. The fact that presence of women in painting was rare those days made Padminiís position unique. She was known in the sphere of art in these circumstances. Padmini secured the prestigious Diploma in painting in 1965. Later, complementing her life mission of being a painter, she chose teaching as her formal vocation.

One of those days painter K. Damodaran alongwith friends came from Talasseri to spend vacation with us. All were students of Madras Arts College. On introduction all of us were impressed by Damodaranís personality. They spend two hours with us and left.

I connected Padmini and Damodaran in my thoughts and made a mention about Damodaran to Padmini in the evening. Three years after I received a letter from Damodaran. "I wish to marry Padmini, please convey your decision." I replied that I will revert after knowing Padminiís opinion. "Damodaran possesses a noble mind which is ready for adjustments. Uncle, you can decide." That is how Padmini responded. Thus K. Damodaran and Padmini entered the wedlock in May 1968.

Padminiís last painting was included in the exhibition held by Creative Art Forum in Madras at the British Council. "Girl who flies the Kite."- was the subject of the painting. Let me recollect that Padmini wished to be a mother of a girl child. But unfortunately, following complications in delivery Padmini and child left us forever.

As a valuable addition to Keralaís artistic heritage and to facilitate studies by generations in future, Padminiís paintings, sketches and other documents have been entrusted to Kerala Lalithakala Akademi. Important repositories of Padminiís paintings include National Gallery of Modern Art, Madras, Salar Jung Museum, Hyderabad and Durbar Hall Art Gallery, Kochi belonging to the Kerala Lalithakala Akademi.


Translated from Malayalam original 'Our Padmini' by E. Madhavan